Infections of humans and livestock with African trypanosomes are treated with drugs introduced decades ago that are not always fully effective and often have severe side effects. Here, the trypanosome haptoglobin-haemoglobin receptor (HpHbR) has been exploited as a route of uptake for an antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) that is completely effective against Trypanosoma brucei in the standard mouse model of infection. Recombinant human anti-HpHbR monoclonal antibodies were isolated and shown to be internalised in a receptor-dependent manner. Antibodies were conjugated to a pyrrolobenzodiazepine (PBD) toxin and killed T. brucei in vitro at picomolar concentrations. A single therapeutic dose (0.25 mg/kg) of a HpHbR antibody-PBD conjugate completely cured a T. brucei mouse infection within 2 days with no re-emergence of infection over a subsequent time course of 77 days. These experiments provide a demonstration of how ADCs can be exploited to treat protozoal diseases that desperately require new therapeutics.
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